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Raiders Draft: Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State scouting report

No longer “under the radar” but a good WR to fill a need in Vegas

2022 NCAA Division I Football Championship
Christian Watson
Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders have been looking for a wide receiver since about the midway point of the regular season specifically, a deep threat, and their search will continue into this year’s NFL Draft. North Dakota State’s Christian Watson can stretch the field and more, and he won’t cost the Raiders a first-round pick.

WR | NDSU | 6’4” and 211 pounds | Tampa, FL | May 12th, 1999 (22.8)

Overview:

Christian Watson wasn’t rated by 247 Sports coming out of high school and was listed at just 6’2” and 175 pounds on his recruiting profile. The late bloomer even redshirted his first season at North Dakota State and didn’t become a full-time starter until his third year on campus. He racked up 108 catches for 2,140 yards — 20.6 yards per catch — and 14 touchdowns, playing in the Bison’s run-heavy offense where he received more than seven targets in a single game once in four years. The Tampa, Florida native also added 50 carries, 394 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Strengths:

  • Very good size for an NFL wide receiver, also has 10” hands and 32.75” arms
  • Has the ankle flexibility and quickness for an effective crossover release to beat press coverage, won a handful of times with this at the Senior Bowl
  • Accelerates off the line of scrimmage and can eat up a cornerback’s cushion against off coverage in a hurry
  • He also varies his speed off the line on deep routes to get defensive backs to stop their feet, and he has an impressive second gear to then win vertically
  • Dips his shoulder to help avoid contact in the five-yard window
  • Solid at reading coverage to throttle in holes against zone and give the quarterback a throwing window
  • He attacks leverage to give himself more space and/or a two-way go on vertical routes
  • When running post routes, he uses an effective jab step to sell the outside/corner and is explosive out of the cut to maximize separation
  • Pretty sudden at the top of his routes on curls, and he does a good job keeping his shoulders down when stopping to avoid tipping the route and make corners “feel his speed”
  • He has some savviness to him as a route runner, using head and shoulder fakes at the top of the routes to keep defensive backs guessing
  • On deep routes, he has soft hands and has no problems catching balls over his shoulder
  • Good sideline awareness and body control to get his feet down in bounds near the boundary
  • He has the height and vertical to go up and get jump balls and/or overthrows
  • Braces his body for contact after getting his hands on the ball in contested catch situations
  • After the catch, he has good vision to find lanes and the speed to break second- and third-level angles. He was even given a few carries out of the backfield and on jet sweeps in college.
  • Also, he has the balance to stay upright when tacklers dive at his feet, and is tough to hold onto the ball through big hits. He only had two fumbles at NDSU and none in the last two seasons.
  • Very impressive run blocker, displaying excellent effort, good angles and the willingness to put his body in harm's way to help spring long runs

Areas of Improvement:

  • Didn’t get many opportunities to face press coverage and build/show off a complete release package in college
  • After reaching full speed on 90-degree routes, he does raise his shoulders to throttle and is a little slow getting in and out of the cut. This could make it difficult for him to win on ins and outs against off coverage at the next level, especially against defensive backs who are good at clicking and closing.
  • At 6’4”, he’s a long strider which makes it difficult to create separation on shorter routes like whips and slants
  • While he showed year-to-year growth on contested catches in college (50 percent success rate as a Senior, per PFF) and has the vertical to continue to grow in that area, he hasn’t proven that can be a sustainable part of his game. Also, the 50 percent clip last year was only on six contested targets, and he was still at just 30 percent through all four years.
  • Might struggle to be a red zone threat in the NFL with his lack of short area quickness and success on contested catches
  • Isn’t a natural hands catcher and struggles to catch passes above his head or below his waist, and he won’t be able to bail out his quarterback on inaccurate — but still catchable — passes. PFF credited him with 16 drops in college (13.3 percent of on-target passes), including seven as a junior with a 28.8 percent drop rate.
  • He’s not very shifty or elusive to make defensive backs miss in the open field, and he isn’t going to run through tackles when defenders hit him above the knees
  • When run blocking, he does have a habit of stopping his feet before contact

Injuries:

  • 2021: Hamstring (missed 3 playoff games)

Projection:

NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board rank: 102nd, 3rd round

Watson’s stock has been steadly on the rise since the Senior Bowl. He was one of the top performers down in Mobile and he’s risen nearly 100 spots on NMDD’s big board since January 18th. Personally, I think he’s going to continue to rise and wouldn’t be surprised to see him get drafted in the second round.

Schematically, the former Bison would be best in a vertical passing attack that uses him on deep and intermediate routes. He’d probably be a bit of a “square peg in a round hole” in a West Coast-style offense, unless said team is looking for a No. 2 or 3 receiver to help stretch the field and open the short areas of the field up for everyone else.

What do we need to know?

Can he continue to grow in contested catch situations? Probably my biggest concern about Watson heading into the pros is his lack of production in the red zone. At his height, he’ll never be a quick-twitch, Hunter Renfrow-type of route runner to create seperation in the short range, but he does have the size to become a threat on contested targets. However, he still needs to prove that.

Fit with the Raiders:

Count me in as someone who’s all aboard the Christian Watson hype train. Not only can he stretch the field and be the deep threat the Raiders are looking for, but he can also be a threat on intermediate routes and after the catch. If he can work on his hands and become a red zone threat, the NDSU product can develop into a potential No. 1 wide receiver down the road.

Personally, I’d be comfortable using the 53rd overall pick on him and if he’s still around by pick 83, I’ll go sprint the card in for Dave Ziegler. Hopefully, Ziegler feels the same way.

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